The new French Ligue 1 season starts on Friday, pressing ahead despite Paris Saint-Germain being in Lisbon for the Champions League final, as it looks to move on from the controversial decision to end the last campaign early because of the coronavirus pandemic.
AFP Sport picks out some of the storylines to follow in 2020/21:
– Will anyone challenge PSG? –
Europe is all that really matters for PSG, who are nowhere to be seen on the Ligue 1 fixture list this weekend as they prepare to play in their first ever Champions League final on Sunday.
That is where they are judged these days, but they will still be expected to claim another domestic crown.
PSG have won seven of the last eight French titles. Their revenue is almost three times that of the next richest club, Lyon.
So a genuine fight for the championship is once again highly unlikely. Lyon should be the ones to do it, but they will almost certainly sell some of their star players before the transfer window closes in early October having failed to qualify for Europe in the new campaign.
The only doubt really is by how many points PSG will win the league, and the lack of competitive balance is a major problem.
– Villas-Boas, the difficult second season –
Marseille finished second in the curtailed 2019/20 campaign, their best performance since 2013 seeing them return to the Champions League after seven years.
Andre Villas-Boas has stayed at the Velodrome having at one point seemed certain to leave, but the coach’s concerns about the strength of Marseille’s squad are well founded.
This is a club in financial difficulty under American owner Frank McCourt. They were fined in the spring by UEFA for breaching Financial Fair Play rules and may yet have to sell players to balance the books.
World Cup-winning winger Florian Thauvin, who missed almost all of last season due to injury, has just a year left on his contract so is a prime candidate to be sold.
At least Dimitri Payet has extended his contract. But coping with the added demands of the Champions League will make finishing on the podium a tough ask.
– Can Rennes do it again? –
Rennes will be in the Champions League for the first time and that prospect may convince gifted teenage midfielder Eduardo Camavinga to stick around in Brittany.
These are heady days for Rennes, who are owned by Francois Pinault, one of France’s richest men. Their French Cup triumph in 2019 was their first major trophy in almost 50 years and their third place last season was their best ever showing.
In Julien Stephan, who is 39, they have one of the best young coaches in Europe but, like Marseille, they must brace themselves for a fight if they are to compete for a top-three place again and show up well in Europe.
– Can Lille cope without Osimhen? –
Lille missed out on Champions League qualification for this season and have since sold their star striker, with Nigerian Victor Osimhen joining Napoli for a reported 81.3 million euros ($96.4m).
They moved to reinvest some of that money by signing the 20-year-old Canadian forward Jonathan David from Gent for a reported 27 million euros.
David was the joint-top scorer in Belgium last season so hopes are high he can fill Osimhen’s shoes.
– Monaco, Nice aim high –
It has been a busy close season on the Cote d’Azur.
Monaco responded to a disappointing last campaign by sacking Spanish coach Robert Moreno and appointing Niko Kovac, the former Bayern Munich boss.
Kovac is working under Englishman Paul Mitchell, Monaco’s new sporting director. Monaco’s aim is to return to the top three after two desperately poor seasons.
However, local rivals Nice could compete for a podium place too.
In the hands of British-owned company Ineos, Nice are ambitious and hope to build on a fifth-placed finish last season under Patrick Vieira.
Standout signings include the ex-Monaco creator Rony Lopes and France midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin, who has joined from Everton.